As the Manchester Evening News reported last Saturday, in a story taken up by some dailies (including The Sun, oddly enough), the Manchester Central Library recently had a large number of books stolen. These thefts were just not your average 'extended borrowings' of a few Agatha Christies: many of these books were extremely valuable.
The thefts included, for example: a 16th-century edition of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer worth £35,000, a 1654 publication of John Donne's elegies, a book of letters about the death of Louis XVI, and a 1675 edition of William Camden's The History of the Most Renowned and Victorious Princess Elizabeth. The total value of the 400+ stolen books has been estimated at £250,000.
What is not revealed in the Manchester Evening News is that the theft of the books was first suspected by an American bookdealer, who contacted Clive Keeble. It was Clive who discovered that the staff of the Manchester Central Library (a Council-owned institution) had no idea that some very precious items of stock were missing; and it was Clive who proceeded to crack the case, at considerable expense of time and effort, and not a little of his own money. At the end of a long day's hard work, Clive was able to tell the police the name and address of the thief. So strong was the case against this individual, in fact, that he pleaded guilty. His name was Norman Buckley, and he was a member of the Library staff.
Set out below is a copy of the statement written by Clive at the request of the Manchester police. It tells its own story. At Clive's request I have omitted the self-confessed thief's address, and have disguised the names of the Central Library staff.
This statement, by the way, is a world exclusive to the GOB. I'm sure you're impressed. I certainly am, and I thank Clive very warmly for it. He could have placed it elsewhere, and earned a guinea or two.
I think this case demonstrates a number of things, not least that there are some very responsible and public-spirited people around in the secondhand and antiquarian book trade, and such integrity deserves to be recognised. Hint: buy more books from them.
Statement from Clive Keeble re Manchester City Library books offered for sale on eBay.com
At approx 0640BST on Thursday March 30th 2006 I read a posting on Bookfinder Insider - an international bookworld mailing list - made a few hours previously by Vic Zoschak, a respected bookdealer from Alameda, California. Vic's posting drew attention to an eBay.com auction 70182922188 : in particular the binding of the 1654 book of John Donne poetry "Poems by J.D.with elegies on the authors death". The images of this eBay auction clearly showed the Manchester coat of arms to the head of the spine, a dewey library number to the tail of the spine, and an embossed stamp to the title page which on detailed examination showed "Manchester Free Library" and Manchester coat-of-arms.
Between 0730 and 0900 I checked a broad sample from 40 other completed and live auctions made by the same eBay seller, "godard101", from the past 30 days. Although the John Donne poetry book was the only one found with an image of the
Manchester coat of arms to the spine, several other auctions showed images of title pages where the "Manchester Free Library" was embossed.
At approx 0915 I telephoned the main switchboard of City of Manchester Libraries and asked to speak to the most senior official on duty. The lines to the Directors Office were busy and I spoke to a Ms Smith [not her real name] : having explained my findings I gave my contact details and then emailed Ms Smith with a copy of the original posting from Vic Zoschak.
At 0935 I made a posting to Bookfinder Insider, copied to Vic Zoschak, informing subscribers that I had been in contact with the City of Manchester libraries.
During the morning, I checked and re-checked my findings about these auctions. Vic Zoschak had quietly raised his concerns as to whether the eBay seller "godard 101" would have had title to the book : this title was of sufficient importance that it would
normally have been traded only within the established antiquarian bookworld. Most dealers who trade antiquarian titles would handle some books which were previously within the public or private library system : in recent years there have been many legitimate disposals from such libraries in order to raise funds, however the booktrade is alert to the growing increase of thefts from institutional libraries (especially since eBay gives a ready outlet for such items). Although many valuable ex-library titles are withdrawn without the book being liberally stamped withdrawn, this is done to help preserve the value and original state, and a written (loose insertable) withdrawal slip from the library will generally be issued.
At approx 1415 John Brown [not his real name], of Manchester City Library, contacted me by telephone : apparently the John Donne poetry book still showed in the library records, but there was no trace within the stockroom, and no paper evidence that the book had been moved. John Brown and myself had several phone conversations in the next hour, when I explained how he could check the last 30 days completed and live auctions from the eBay seller "godard 101". eBay are virtually impossible to contact by telephone, deliberately not displaying a live contact number, and I was very concerned that John Brown should be able to have as complete as possible a "case file" to place in front of the police. I therefore tried at approx 15.30 to contact US booktrade colleagues who have responsibility for security within their trade organizations, as it occured to me that it would be far easier to make an investigation with the co-operation of eBay. Ken Saunders, ABAA security, is based in Utah and would not be at his desk until at least 1800BST (10.00PST), therefore I decided to contact the ABA in London.
At 1436 I had received a direct email from Vic Zoschak : this was in reply to my 0935 Insider posting. Vic said that he had previously emailed the seller asking if he could provide clear proof of title to ownership - there had been no response from "godard101".
At approx 1545 I telephoned the offices of the ABA (Antiquarian Booksellers Association) in Piccadilly London : it was suggested that I contacted Laurens Hardman (Broadhurst of Southport Ltd) who is the ABA security co-ordinator for theft, including from the library sector. I explained the situation to Laurens Hardman and explained that it would considerably help if direct contact could be made with eBay : in order to preserve total confidentiality I passed John Brown's telephone number. Laurens Hardman immediately telephoned John Brown at Manchester City Library.
At 1656 I emailed Vic Zoschak to update him on developments : in his reply at 1701 Vic mentioned that he had previously purchased a book from godard101" (eBay.com auction 7015636169) "Eikon Aklastos. The image Unbroaken 1651 - Joseph Jane". Vic was concerned that this book came with a dewey number to the spine and yet there was no proof of withdrawal : Vic therefore had decided to monitor, subject to work constraints, the auctions from the seller "godard101". This information was the breakthrough that was needed : at 1717 I emailed Vic to ask him to give any contact details that he might have for "godard101". Contact between Vic and myself had all been made at his home : at 1907 I received an email from Vic to say that he was now at his shop and was going to search for any contact details for "godard101".
At 1920 I received an email from Vic with email address, name and postcode to which he had made (presumably) PayPal payment to "godard101" for eBay auction 701563169.
At approx 1922 I telephoned John Brown - this was set to answerphone : I then telephoned the mobile telephone number previously provided by John and made contact with him at the same time as police officers were present to investigate the circumstances of this book being listed on eBay.com. I passed the details as provided by Vic Zoschak which gave Norman Buckley of [post code] as the person selling on eBay with the nome de plume "godard101". It was requested that I did not disclose this information to any other party and agreed to immediately contact Vic Zoschak to ensure that he also did not disclose the seller's identity to anybody.
I was asked by the police officers to complete this detailed summary, with timings.
I gave the police officers all information that had been received and at approx 20.00 telephoned Vic Zoschak in his Alameda, California shop : I updated Vic and, on police advice, requested that Vic did not mention either the "seller" identity, email address or postcode to anybody else. The book which Vic Zoschak had previously purchased from "godard101" - "Eikon Aklastos. The image Unbroaken 1651 - Joseph Jane" - has been put to one side in his store, pending any further investigations from Manchester.
Statement made by Clive Keeble
Somerset TA10 9PW
Tel: 01458 259627